Defining who is (and who isn’t) a hero

The media coverage of Donald Trump saying that being a prisoner of war did not make John McCain a hero and the subsequent outrage travelled all the way to Israel.

I became completely baffled when I started hearing/reading statements of: “He can’t say that!” Have Americans completely forgotten the point of America?! Have Americans forgotten the concept of freedom?

Any American can say whatever they (excuse my language) damn well please. That is the fundamental freedom. Without freedom of speech, freedom of thought is swiftly lost. After that all other freedoms are very easy to take a way.

Of course there are consequences to things said, as there are to actions taken, however each individual is free to suffer whatever consequences they might choose to incur. Donald Trump is free to say whatever he wants. He is free to think whatever he wants. And I will defend that right any day of the week.

Now – about the content. Does being captured and held as a prisoner of war make you a hero?

America seems to be a very confused nation…

A hero is someone who has overcome something terribly dangerous or difficult. A hero is someone who put the well-being of others before their own safety. Someone who overcame limitations that would normally hold others back.

I know what heroes are. Israel is full of them.

One thing that I can say for sure is that heroes never call themselves a hero. They tend to shy away from any mention of their heroic actions. They don’t look for the limelight.

Heroes will tell you that they didn’t do enough. That others did more. They are the people who run in to burning buildings or pull people out of burning tanks and despair over the lives they did not save.

If you have a relative who fought in WW2 ask him. They will all tell you, regardless of their actions during the war: “The heroes are the ones that didn’t come back.”

Being a captured doesn’t make you a hero. Being captured and helping others escape is heroic. Being captured and helping others stay sane and hopeful is a type of heroism. Surviving torture and succeeding in building a normal life afterwards takes heroic effort.

Heroism isn’t necessarily one grand action. Overcoming the endless little challenges of a difficult life is a kind of heroism too. The poor single mother that works multiple jobs and makes sure her children are educated, well brought up and stay out of gangs and crime is a hero too. She too, in her own way, is saving lives against all odds.

Being an Olympic athlete doesn’t make you a hero. Being a basketball player or movie star doesn’t make you a hero. Christopher Reeve for example, was Superman in the movies – until a riding injury paralyzed him from the neck down – and he became Superman for real. Like being taken hostage, it is not the injury that made Reeve a genuine Superman, it is what he did with his life afterwards. It is not the position or a condition a person is in, it is the choices they make about what to do with the situation or condition they are in.

While average people run away from danger, heroes run towards danger.
While average people worry about protecting their own lives first, heroes worry first about others.
While average people congratulate themselves on their achievements, heroes tend to despair over what they did not achieve, wishing they had done more.

Americans probably imagine heroes as big strong men with bulging muscles that are never afraid. Living in Israel has taught me that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Heroes tend to be people that are afraid and do things anyway. That is the true meaning of courage. Heroes are people that insist on doing what is right, no matter how their actions might affect their own personal safety.

Being a POW didn’t make John McCain a hero. I have no interest in the man himself or his military record. Personally every time I hear his name the picture of McCain hugging Syrian ‘rebels’ comes to mind. No amount of PR spin can put a good flavor on that… (does anyone remember the time when the world was horrified at the Syrian ‘rebel’ eating the liver of the enemy he had just killed?). The friend of my enemy’s enemy is not my friend.

Yael laughed when one of them called her a hero. The slash marks evident on her face she said: “I just did what I had to do.” And then looking straight in to the camera she said: “I want a message to go out to all the people. Each one of us has more strength inside than you would ever imagine. Use it. Don’t ever give in. Don’t ever give up”

For those who don’t recognize heroes in their own lives, I can give examples of real Israeli heroes. They are real people. Not characters in movies or storybooks.

They are the mothers who fought armed terrorists with bare hands to save their children. Yael is one of them. They are the every-day heroes who strive to save lives, even under fire. They are the soldiers who sacrificed themselves to save those they were responsible for like Roi Klien. They are the regular people, the civilians like Haim Smadar who purposely placed themselves in front of terrorists to protect others. They are the leaders like Ziv Shilon and the freedom fighters who speak for what is right although it puts them in life threatening danger like Muhammad  Zoabi and Yehuda Glick. The list goes on and on…

I know what heroes are. Israel is full of them.

These are the people I live amongst.

5 thoughts on “Defining who is (and who isn’t) a hero

  1. I think you’re a bit of hero for having the intestinal fortitude to write about the “POW=hero” fallacy. I love the way you politely stick your finger up at Political Correctness on your blog. I can only repeat the “tackling uncomfortable topics but NOT one-eyed” acknowledgement I gave you somewhere else on your blog (sorry, I can’t remember where it was).


      1. They’re not kind words and they don’t merit thanks because:
        I just tell the truth as I see it (sound familiar?)


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